LONDON: Researchers at the University of Liverpool have revealed they have made a breakthrough that could lead to a cure being developed for the Ebola virus currently sweeping through West Africa.
The university said on Thursday that experts stumbled across an existing drug used in the treatment of severe heart disease, which could be adapted to fight the deadly Ebola virus.
A team from the Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging Infections, based at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, have been investigating new ways to treat Ebola. The team is behind the potential breakthrough in the global race to find a treatment.
In collaboration with Public Health England, the team has been looking at how Ebola virus hijacks proteins inside cells, and then seeking ways to stop this from happening.
They looked at what proteins inside a cell are critical for the functions of Ebola virus and are hijacked by the virus to help with infection. One of the proteins they have targeted is known as VP24. This protein disrupts signalling in infected human cells and disrupts the body’s immune system and the fight against the virus.
From there the Liverpool team looked at whether any existing drugs already block the function of this particular protein. They found the heart drug, ouabain, when administered can reduce the virus’ replication.
The team said further testing needs to be done, but as the heart drug is already in use, much of the work to test whether it is safe for humans has already been completed. This, they said, would potentially speed up the time it could take get the treatment to Ebola patients in need.
The study was led by Professor Julian Hiscox from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health and Professor Roger Hewson at Public Health England.
Prof Hiscox said:”This study shows how existing therapeutics can be identified and potentially repurposed for anti-viral therapy. The technique of using existing and tested drugs for a different purpose can save considerable time and ultimately, lives. ”
The British Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging Infections opened in April of this year.
Professor Tom Solomon, director of the health protection research unit, said: “This is a fantastic piece of work by the Liverpool team, in collaboration with colleagues. It may be an important step to help us tackle this devastating disease which is spreading across West Africa”.
The study used specialist facilities which allowed them to work with the Ebola virus safely, under conditions of “high containment.” PNA